Community features

Online communities can take many forms, and add depth and breadth to your site.


You want to create an online community that adds value to your site.


The Internet offers the opportunity to create virtual communities using a range of technologies, including blogs, forums, and guest books; email lists; page comments; ratings; and voting.

  • Blogs: A frequently updated web log (blog) incrementally adds short postings over a period of time, arranging the postings in a reverse chronology. An expert creates the content, and visitors have the chance to post comments.
  • Forums: The early guest book evolved into the forum where visitors can leave comments (postings) on a variety of topics or start their own topics. Forums are tricky because they only work for a narrow range of users. Too few participants makes a forum uninteresting; too many and the forum becomes overwhelming. Shy participants fail to ignite interesting dialog; ornery participants quickly mire the conversation with belligerence. There is also always the risk of abuse and free-for-all off-topic postings.
  • Email lists: If your site revisits a topic or theme, consider establishing a newsletter to keep the public informed of new developments.
  • Page comments: The option to post comments has become a popular feature on many online magazines and blogs. The advantages and disadvantages are similar to those of forums.
  • Ratings and voting: Polls can be successful used to tally ratings for an individual visitor. For example, a visitor can tally their opinion about greenhouse gasses, and compare their opinion with averages or conclusions from experts. Likewise, a visitor could calculate their body mass index, and compare it with a national average.


Conflict is an interesting aspect of many online communities, and can be a powerful addition for controversial topics. Online communities that push visitors cognitively, socially, and affectively are prone to conflict. Conflict within online communities can arise from many causes, including: opposing opinions; errors in content; miscommunication; criticism; overt hostility; trolling (deliberate attempts to provoke other users); external interpersonal issues; technical mishaps; moderation problems; sexual advances; sarcasm; and cultural differences. But conflict can be beneficial: it prompts visitor interest; reveals problems; provides rallying points; sensitizes visitors to differences; spawns new communities; and provides a safe catharsis for visitors. When visitors argue, it is a sign that they care. The most successful online communities have a healthy level of conflict and discourse.

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